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Why Rivera viewed McLaurin as an 'organizational signing' that had to get done

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Ron Rivera was all smiles as he listened to Terry McLaurin address the media Wednesday morning, and who could blame him? He just ensured that one of the biggest keys to the Washington Commanders' future will be sticking around for the foreseeable future. 

McLaurin, Washington's third-round pick in the 2019 draft, signed a multi-year contract extension with the team Tuesday morning. Rivera gave numerous assurances that a deal would get done, and after weeks of negotiations, that became a reality to the delight of the fanbase. 

Rivera has plenty of reasons to be ecstatic about keeping the Commanders' No. 1 receiver in town. McLaurin will be a critical piece for the offense heading into his fourth season, but the effects of his signing go beyond the performance on the field. 

"I think you understand how important an organizational signing is," Rivera told Julie Donaldson. "It's not good for you on the field, but off the field, in the community, in the business side of football. When you have guys that do things the right way...that's invaluable."

The Commanders have made it a priority to retain players that "set the tone," as Rivera put it after McLaurin's press conference. They started that precedent last season by extending Jonathan Allen and Logan Thomas for what they brought to the team, not just in terms of their production, but also for how they enhanced the culture Rivera has been trying to establish.

It didn't take long for the Commanders to decide that McLaurin exemplified those traits. Rivera laid out how McLaurin fit into the team's three-year plan to co-owners and co-CEOs Dan and Tanya Snyder, and it likely wasn't difficult to explain why the receiver is a critical pillar for the organization.

From the time Rivera first arrived in Washington, he's been adamant that a sustainable, winning culture is built on unselfish players who put the team first. Everything that McLaurin has done thus far, from not placing a priority on personal stats to offering guidance to the other wideouts who aren't that much younger than McLaurin himself.

Rivera says it best: Mclaurin handles himself the right way.

"I think truly you have the most success individually when you have the most success as a team," McLaurin said. "I'm a guy who's going to have your back, man … I feel like that towards everybody's in this locker room and in this building."

Take a behind-the-scenes look at Terry McLaurin signing his extension with the Washington Commanders. (Joe Noyes/Washington Commanders)

McLaurin has placed himself among the best young receivers in the NFL. Among several notable stats, he is one of 10 NFL receivers to have at least 220 receptions, 3,000 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns since 2019.

That requires no shortage of hard work -- another stanchion of Rivera's culture -- and McLaurin has that covered as well. As difficult as it was for him to miss OTAs and minicamp, McLaurin was still preparing for the 2022 by working out in Florida.

That's not a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to McLaurin throughout his career. He's pushed himself to improve by working on his weaknesses and refining his skill set to reach his goal of being one of the best receivers in the league.

McLaurin said the real work towards that starts now, but putting in that effort is nothing new to him.

"I just love the grind, man. I really do. And it's got me to why I'm here; the adversities that I went through in college and high school and the NFL kind of being the underdog. The reason why I'm here is because of the work that could was put in during those times."

To Rivera, signing a player like McLaurin does a couple things: it tells the others on the roster that they will be rewarded if they handle themselves in a similar fashion, and it sends a message to the fanbase: the team is doing everything it can to have success on the field.

"You're telling the community we're doing the best we can," Rivera said. "We're putting the best players in position so we can build something we can all be proud of."

And it tells any potential partners that Washington has placed a priority on filling the organization with the right kind of players.

"We want to retain young men of this stature," Rivera said. "We want young men of this magnitude out there representing our organization, representing our community, thus representing your brand."

Of course, it still comes down to what McLaurin can put on the field, and it's easy to argue that he's never been in a better position with Carson Wentz as his quarterback. Their connection, Rivera said, is going to be "very important" because of the options it will give the offense.

"The offense is gonna stretch vertically. It's going to stretch horizontally. It's gonna get wider. It's gonna get longer, which is gonna open up spaces on the field and allow our guys to really have an impact and make a difference."

McLaurin has finished with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but even if doesn't reach that milestone, his importance cannot be overstated.

"He may be that valuable weapon that opens up and creates for others," Rivera said. "And then it reciprocates as you work in certain other parts of the field, Terry comes open, and now [there's] a big strike."

There are justifiably high expectations for the Commanders in 2022. The schedule is favorable, starting with the Jacksonville Jaguars; the offense now has their quarterback; and the defense made solid progress in OTAs and is set up for a bounce back performance.

Now McLaurin is signed on for years to come. No one wins games based on offseason hype, but it creates one hell of a wave to ride all the way to Week 1.

"I really think the best is yet to come for my life, personally and professionally," McLaurin said.

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